12/09/2006 1:00AM

Copper State handles distance

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Richard Hazelton, who grew up with short-winded stock in the Southwest, likes to poke fun at himself as a struggling trainer of route horses. Reality paints a different picture.

For the second straight year, Hazelton won the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante, the first two-turn 2-year-old dirt stakes of the year in Chicago. Last year it was Rolling Sea, who relished the Whitworth's 1 1/16-mile distance, and this year Copper State won a stretch-long war of attrition, outlasting front-running Rich N Clever to win the $117,650 Whitworth by a half-length.

Before Saturday, Copper State had won once in five starts, all sprints, and in the six-furlong Illinois Debutante on Nov. 11 at Hawthorne she finished third behind Magnetic Miss - the Whitworth favorite - and Rich N Clever. But with Copper State, Hazelton actually felt longer was better.

"I thought she would run two turns," Hazelton said. "The whole family has run long. [Half-brother] Oza, he went a mile and a half."

Copper State ($13.40) had post 2 on a track that had played to speed throughout the day. Rich N Clever opened a clear early lead, with Magnetic Miss hustling over from her far outside post to press a slow pace, 48.90 for the first half-mile. Carlos Silva, Hazelton's long-time "A" rider, had to wait in a pocket behind the leaders for the first six furlongs.

"My plan was just to sit in behind the speed horses," Silva said. "She wanted to run on the backstretch, but there was no place to go."

When a hole did open it was down at the fence, and some riders - like E.T. Baird on Rich N Clever - said the rail was powdery and looser than the going a couple paths wider. But Copper State had no issue. She edged forward, overtaking Rich N Clever in the last 50 yards.

Copper State was timed in 1:45.55, with a decent 6.19 final half-furlong. Jermidy came from mid-pack for third, with Magnetic Miss dead-heating for fourth.

The Hazelton route train might not yet have finished its trip, either: for next week's Jim Edgar Futurity, Hazelton has the undefeated Caruso.